American Air Attendants Ask U.S. Board for Clearance to Strike
March 16, 2010
By Mary Schlangenstein
March 16 (Bloomberg) -- American Airlines' flight attendants requested
federal approval to end contract talks, a step toward the first strike at a
major U.S. carrier in almost five years.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants asked the National
Mediation Board to declare bargaining with AMR Corp.'s American at an
impasse, union President Laura Glading said. Only the board can approve a
halt to negotiations, putting the parties into a 30-day "cooling-off" period
before a walkout.
Glading's proposal to break off talks made the attendants union the second
labor group at American to try to trigger a countdown toward a strike. The
Transport Workers Union, which represents ground workers, asked permission
last week to be freed from contract discussions.
"I can't imagine anyone really wants to strike," William Swelbar, a research
engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's International Center for
Air Transportation, said before the attendants made their request. He said a
walkout would disrupt cash flow in the busy U.S. summer travel season.
Federal law sets out the mediators' role in airline labor talks. No large
U.S. carrier has suffered a strike since 2005, when 4,200 Northwest Airlines
Corp. mechanics and aircraft cleaners walked off the job. Northwest, which
was acquired by Delta Air Lines Inc. in 2008, responded by hiring
A telephone message left with American's media office for comment wasn't
Talks between American, the world's second-biggest airline behind Delta, and
the APFA began June 10, 2008. The union, which represents 16,550 active
attendants and 1,450 on furlough, has said it will conduct a strike
Attendants, ground workers and American's pilots union are all in contract
negotiations, trying to recoup $1.6 billion in pay and benefits given up in
2003 to save the Fort Worth, Texas- based carrier from bankruptcy. American
wants to reduce its industry-leading labor costs and raise productivity.
Mediators haven't decided on the TWU's March 11 request to be freed from
talks with American. The TWU represents ground workers including mechanics
and bag handlers.
Should the board conclude that further talks wouldn't yield a contract,
American and the attendants would be offered binding arbitration. Rejection
by either side would start the "cooling- off" period, which would still
allow for further discussions.
The board also may order the airline and union to resume talks, or decree a
recess in negotiations.
American refused to "bargain in good faith," Glading said in a March 12
statement. American said yesterday in a Web-site update about the talks that
"we made progress and look forward to getting back to the table and back to
AMR fell 18 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $9.66 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock
Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 25 percent this year.
American has told the Federal Aviation Administration that it was
considering training managers and other employees as replacement attendants
in the event of a strike. In 1993, American trained about 1,300 replacements
to try to keep some planes flying during a five-day walkout.
The strike ended when then-President Bill Clinton intervened. It cost
American about $10 million a day.